Sir Robert Borden

The Right Honourable Sir Robert Laird Borden (June 26, 1854 – June 10, 1937) was the eighth Prime Minister of Canada from October 10, 1911 to July 10, 1920. He was born in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia.

In 1889 he married Laura Bond (1863-1940). Professionally, Borden’s list of careers ran the gamut. From 1868 to 1874 he worked as a teacher in Nova Scotia and New Jersey. After he returned to Nova Scotia in 1876, he studied law at a Halifax law firm (without a formal university education) and was called to the Nova Scotia Bar in 1878. He was the Chancellor of Queen’s University from 1924 to 1930 and stood as president of two financial institutions.

He was elected as a Member of Parliament in 1896, and became leader of the Conservative opposition in 1901. He slowly rebuilt the party, which had lost power and influence after the death of Sir John A. Macdonald in 1891, and in 1911 he swept to power, campaigning against Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s plan for free trade with the United States.

As Prime Minister of Canada during the First World War, Borden committed Canada to provide half a million soldiers for the war effort. However, volunteers had quickly dried up when Canadians realized there would be no quick end to the war, but Borden’s determination to meet that huge commitment led to the Military Service Act and the Conscription Crisis of 1917, which split the country on linguistic lines. The unpopular conscription issue would likely have meant defeat in the election of 1917, but Borden allied with the Liberals (with the notable exception of Wilfrid Laurier) to create a Unionist government.

The war effort also enabled Canada to assert itself as an independent power. Borden wanted to create a single Canadian army, rather than have Canadian soldiers split up and assigned to British divisions. Sam Hughes, the Minister of Militia, assured that Canadians were well-trained and prepared to fight in their own divisions, and Arthur Currie provided sensible leadership for the Canadian divisions in Europe, although they were still under overall British command. Nevertheless Canadian troops proved themselves to be among the best in the world, fighting at the Somme, Ypres, Passchendaele, and especially at the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

In world affairs Borden played a crucial role in transforming the British Empire into a partnership of equal states, the Commonwealth of Nations, a term that was first discussed at a meeting of First Ministers in London during the war. During the war Borden also introduced the first Canadian income tax, which at the time was meant to be temporary, but was never repealed.

Convinced that Canada had become a nation on the battlefields of Europe, Sir Robert Borden retired in 1920. He died in Ottawa on June 10, 1937 and was buried in the Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa, Ontario.

Sir Robert Borden is depicted on the Canadian hundred-dollar bill.

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